Project Manager’s Hard Skills: What Is Needed and How to Develop Them

When we watch a presentation of a new gadget, update the software on our phone, or drive down an unfamiliar road junction, we see products that are already finished. All of them were once projects and have come a long way from idea to physical implementation.

A project manager, also known as a project manager or project manager, is responsible for organizing this journey. He or she coordinates the activities of the team and is responsible for achieving the goals of the projects. What professional skills does this person need?

A Project Manager Manages Processes and Is Responsible for Project Implementation

A project is a set of time-limited activities aimed at creating a unique product or refining an existing one. Projects come in many forms and are implemented in any field or industry.

Building a new road junction, fixing bugs in a mobile app, or updating a device’s security settings are all projects. Each begins with an unmet need and ends with the creation of a solution to fill that need.

The project appears and is implemented under certain conditions: a new interchange needs to fit into the existing road infrastructure and landscape, a software update needs to be built into an app or device. To take these conditions into account, it’s necessary to evaluate the initial parameters of the project and build internal processes. This is done by the project manager: he plans the work on the project, manages the processes and risks, works with stakeholders, solves problems and is responsible for achieving the set goals.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) compares a project manager to an orchestra conductor. A casino pro cannot play all the casino with live dealers games but he knows all the rules and understands how a certain game should be completed. Likewise, a project manager is not an expert in every task, but organizes and manages the process so that all specialists are in their places and play their roles.

Project Management Standards Describe the Competencies of a Project Manager

Methods of work and approaches of project managers are described in special standards. There are international standards created by specialized organizations.

International organizations that issue standards for project managers:

  • ISO – International Organization for Standardization.
  • IPMA – International Project Management Association.
  • PMI – Project Management Institute.
  • APM – Association for Project Management.

All the standards have their specific features: some of them describe approaches and processes, others describe managers’ competences. But what they have in common is the description of the best practices of project management. Specialists can use several standards in their work: they can take from each of them exactly what is suitable for a certain company or a specific project.

A standard defines in its own way the competencies and skills necessary for project managers. For example, PMI uses the Project Manager Competency Development Model and describes the skills through the PMI Talent Triangle.

The standards help us understand what professional competencies a project manager should have to implement a project, what skills he or she needs to develop, and what to pay attention to during the profession.

What Hard Skills a Project Manager Needs

For a project manager to have hard skills means to know all the basic techniques and methods of project management. Different standards describe the competence of this specialist in their own way, but the set of skills is approximately the same.

All standards agree that a project manager should:

  • Plan the work on the creation or refinement of a product or services.
  • Manage the content of a project.
  • Work with stakeholders.
  • Solve problems and take responsibility.
  • Concentrate on what is important.
  • Analyze information.
  • Manage risk and change.
  • Work with budgets and financial indicators.

The Ability to Plan

Planning can and should be learned – there are many books, webinars, courses, and articles for this purpose, among which there is sure to be something that works best for a particular manager. When project planning is effective, it has a positive impact on the progress and stress level of the entire team.

It’s important to understand that successful planning doesn’t mean that everything that has been planned is 100% done. The plan isn’t a law that cannot be broken: it can and will change under the influence of external circumstances and sudden factors. The manager’s main task here is to be able to see these circumstances and make decisions that will bring the project back on track.

Tools for effective planning:

  • Scheduled Meeting System. Allows to be aware of the affairs of the team, effectively coordinate the work, in time to notice problem areas and successes in the implementation of the project.
  • Task Splitting. Helps prioritize tasks taking into account the manager’s personal features and the specifics of the project, as well as to analyze which tasks are more frequent, which are postponed more often, which are solved more effectively.

The manager himself chooses the attribute by which he divides the tasks:

  • Time of the day: what needs to be done in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Type of activity: work with documents, meetings, letters.
  • Stage of project progress: analysis, planning, control, completion.

The Eisenhower matrix is a system that helps prioritize tasks based on two parameters: their importance and urgency.

The matrix consists of four squares. The first square contains the tasks that need to be done immediately and independently: they have a big impact on the future, you cannot delegate them. The second square contains tasks that should be done as usual. Urgent and unimportant tasks from the third square should be delegated, and non-urgent and unimportant tasks from the fourth square should be crossed out, because they take time and are of no use.

To be productive working with this tool, you should analyze where tasks are coming from, in which quadrant they are most numerous, and how to optimize their distribution. The most comfortable mode of work is when most tasks are in the second square.

Task trackers and project management systems like Jira, Week, YouGile, YouTrack. These are resources that provide team access to tasks and help organize workflows, track task progress, coordinate requests and documents.

This is by no means a complete list of tools that help plan the work of a project manager. You can use them separately or together, choosing what suits you best.

Managing Project Content

It’s important for a project manager not only to plan, but also to manage: schedules, finances, resources, and risks. One of the most important skills for this professional is project content management.

Content management is the ability to include in the project only those tasks that are necessary to achieve the business goals of the company. This skill is learned and developed with practice.

Project content management typically includes:

  • Analyzing and describing the business problem and requirements.
  • Formation of project boundaries: what will be done and under what constraints.
  • Building the structure of results.
  • Creation of a hierarchical structure of works with the necessary level of detail.
  • Description of the future monitoring and control process.

These steps are broken down into separate sub-steps, for each of which different standards, including PMI, offer a large set of methods and tools, such as peer review, data analysis, decomposition, and decision making.

Knowing How to Work With Stakeholders

Stakeholders are people or even organizations that can influence or are interested in the project. This group includes those who are involved and invested in the project and the future users of the project results.

The project manager will be constantly working with stakeholders: he or she will need to develop strategies with the project sponsor, discuss tasks with the team, and discuss with experts in his or her subject area. Therefore, it’s important to understand who the stakeholders of a particular enterprise are, what their expectations and interests are, how they can influence the project, and how to interact with them to maximize the benefits for the goals set.

Concentrating on the Essentials

The project manager is responsible for the project as a whole: he is aware of everything that is happening, and constantly keeps a complete picture of what is happening in his head. The skill of concentrating on what is important helps the specialist not to get confused and unmistakably highlight the main things.

This skill also makes it possible to understand:

  • Which tasks directly affect the project and which can be done without.
  • What to have at hand at all times.
  • Which factors are the most important for the project.
  • Which tools are the most useful.
  • What the financial situation of the project is.
  • What problems the team faces on a regular basis.
  • What is the priority of the tasks.

Systems Thinking and the Skill to Analyze Information

While working on a project, a project manager needs to constantly structure and organize information, share it and position it correctly for all participants.

To perform these tasks effectively, you need to:

  • See cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Calculate ahead of time the consequences of decisions and steps taken.
  • Be able to collect analytics from conversations, research data, and other available information.
  • Understand where the project is going and what its dynamics are.

Systems thinking skills are especially relevant when working on complex, multi-tiered projects.


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